Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

10.3. Kunst und neue Medien
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Ursula Hentschläger / Zelko Wiener (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

The Revenge of the Senses: Or How to Have Your Electronic Cake and Eat it.

Nat Muller (Rotterdam, NL)



After spending years in front of our screens and getting excited about the reactivity of the mouse click, we come to have realised that our bodies extend beyond our fingertips, and our senses are not only limited to sound and visuals, but also include touch, smell and taste. A current trend in new media art seems to comprise a return to tactility. Interactive installations and responsive environments reflect a more holistic approach to what immersion might mean: the user/player engages in a synaesthetic experience. where discovery, playfulness and creativity play an important role.




1 or more human bodies, fresh and warm-blooded
5 senses, sharpened to an alert state
a dash of vengeance
4 bundles of computer technology, preferably open source
a large chunk of vision, mixed with a sound artistic and aesthetic concept
a sprinkle of thorough human-computer-interface design
5 handfuls of open mindedness
1 pack of tactility, finely balanced
fresh home-grown participation - to taste


Start with the concept. It is extremely important that your concept is fresh, innovative and allows a fair amount of risk-taking. Remember that most culinary discoveries have been made by accident, or by combining unexpected tastes and flavours. Don't be afraid to experiment; this is what culinary and artistic creativity is all about. In the kitchen, whether you bake a cake or cook up another project, don't shy away from the goo and messiness that comes with the territory. After a good decade of euphoria over our cyberbodies - and after half of the computer literate population has gone through RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome - start feeling your body again, realise that this window to the world, this screen we so daily inhabit is merely at the end of our fingertips. There's more to our bodies, and there's more to how our bodies are mediated and technologised. With this in mind, commence your project.

Responsive environments and interactive installations more often than not only allow for a very limited interaction or participation of the user/player. This is mostly due to the fact that there is an imbalance between the degrees of interaction, participation, tactility and an intimacy with the interface/technology. If interactivity is, as Canadian artist David Rokeby holds, about the intimacy between the artist and the audience, then it is all a matter of blending ingredients well, and negotiating these factors. So, if we want intuitive interfaces that allow for reciprocal and sensual technologised interactions, we better start paying attention to how we can balance aesthetics, with conceptual artistic integrity and functionality.

Once you have researched your concept, lay our your other ingredients and check whether they are fresh, functioning, and whether tastes, textures, colours, feel, etc. combine well. It is imperative to do some prior test cooking before you seriously start preparing the cake. Also make sure your team of chefs, sous-chefs, sommeliers, waiters, grocers, and restaurateurs are on the same page and work well as a team. Take the saying "too many cooks in the kitchen" literally, and downsize on scale and complexity where possible. Remember that good ingredients and sound recipes do not need too many extra flavourings and spices. You will serve this to an audience, so make sure it is digestible and that the chunks - whether they are conceptual, audio-visual, tactile, technological or architectural - are bite size. As with any dish, presentation is important. You might have cooked up the most illustrious dish, yet if your presentation and finishing touches are faulty, then appetites will dwindle. The first interface your audience encounters is the final presentation; by corollary it should reflect the concept and invite people to dive in. No one is waiting for a manual on how to eat a cake or wants to taste a half-baked one. Keep this in mind, next time you step into your kitchen.

Bon appétit!

© Nat Muller (Rotterdam, NL)

Nat Muller (NL) is a free-lance writer, curator, critic, organiser and delight-maker. She holds a BA from Tel-Aviv University (Israel) in English Literature, an MA in Queer and Gender Theory from Sussex University (UK), and has recently completed a two-year research term at the Theory Department of the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. She has worked as a sex educator, bookshop keeper, free-lance journalist and as project manager and curator at V2_Organisation, Institute for Unstable Media in Rotterdam, and Axis, Bureau for Gender and the Arts in Amsterdam. Nat has published articles in off- and online media and has given presentations on the subject of media technology, art, and gender (inter)nationally. She is was a member of FoAM, an art and media collective in Brussels. Her main interests include: user research in responsive environments, the creation of new public contexts, food and social communication, the intersections of aesthetics, technology and politics; (new) media and art in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

10.3. Kunst und neue Medien

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For quotation purposes:
Nat Muller (Rotterdam, NL): The Revenge of the Senses: Or How to Have Your Electronic Cake and Eat it. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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